I believe most readers of this blog have seen Ridley Scott’s The Martian and perhaps have even read Andy Weir’s book. Our hero Mark Watney is stranded on Mars and has to overcome a series of crises in order to survive, including growing food. Entertainment aside, the question of how could we grow crops on other worlds is a serious one. As an agronomist, a practitioner of the scientific discipline that conducts analysis and experiments so as to offer advice to farmers, I offer here my take on the subject.
The issue of growing food on other worlds seems to be generally neglected in science fiction. It tends to be brushed over through the use of replicators, miraculously processed food that turns into a scrumptious meal with a few drops of water or other similar plot devices. Until these devices are invented it is better to speculate using existing technology. The majority of the suburban and urban populations are not aware of modern agricultural practices, having a mental image of a rural utopia that reflects decades or centuries past.
Also, farming practices in each country tend to reflect its socioeconomic conditions and level of development: the best method to grow food in the confined and limited space of a colony is often not the one practiced by farms near where you live. For this article I will give a special emphasis on Mars, because our knowledge of the planet is better than that of other heavenly bodies and because of its relative suitability compared to other worlds. This article is divided into two parts dealing with plant and animal production.